Saturday, August 23, 2008

How to use Multiple Virtual Desktops in Linux

Linux offers the user the ability to switch between multiple desktop spaces. If you are curious as to why anyone would want to do that, then read on. From Hamish Taylor at

Using Virtual Desktops in Linux
[...] In a nutshell, think of multiple desktops as being the same as having a large office with a number of physical desks, all of which you can use. You are able to move documents between these desks by picking them up and walking them over to another desk. You can then sit at that desk, read the document and work as normal.

Virtual Desktops is the same concept for computers.

As always, I use Ubuntu, so I am referencing all of my commentary based on that distribution. Ubuntu comes with two Virtual Desktops enabled by default. They are represented on the graphical interface on the bottom right hand side, by brown-grey splodges just to the left of the Recycle Bin icon. The desktop that is being used by default is "Desk 1" and is the left-had of those two icons.

If you open an application, such as the Firefox web browser and expand it out to fill all of the desk space, you'll see that represented in the "Desk 1" icon on the bottom right-hand side of the screen. If you have multiple applications, such as Firefox and the Movie Player and change between them, the "Desk 1" icon also changes. If you have an application that isn't full screen and drag it around the screen a bit, you'll see it move around in the Desk 1 splodge too!

If you now click on the Desk 2 icon, the Firefox browser disappears and you will have a blank desktop. This is the same as walking to another one of those desks in that big office you have!

On Desk 2 you are able to start another application, such as OpenOffice Word processor and have that full screen too.

If you click on the Desk 1 and 2 icons, you can change between the two Virtual Desktops. Both Firefox and OpenOffice Writer will be available full screen. This is a little easier than maximising and minimising applications to see them and far easier than walking between two physical desks! [...]

The comments to this article are also worth reading too. They point out other uses for multiple virtual desktops, such as having a different desktop for each user in the household, without having to have multiple logins; all desktops are accessible from one login, making it fast and easy to switch around without rebooting. Also, many users like to dedicate different desktops to different tasks and functions. Read the whole thing, if you're new to Linux, you're bound to find some useful information.

Here is a good related article, by Dennis O'Reilly at

Get more out of Ubuntu's virtual desktops
[...] By default, the Gnome interface used by Ubuntu 7.10 allows only two virtual desktops at one time, though this number can be increased to as many as 36. To add more desktops, right-click the Workplace Switcher icon in the bottom-right corner of the Gnome desktop and choose Preferences. (If you don't see the Workplace Switcher icon, right-click the panel, choose Add to Panel, and click Workplace Switcher in the Desktop & Windows section. You may also want to add the Window Selector applet, which offers another option for switching between your open workspaces.) [...]

This article offers a helpful walk-through using the Gnome Desktop GUI on Ubuntu 7.10, with screenshots.



Walker said...

My Mac OS Leopard has multiple desktops. I use them all the time, but I frequently think they just confuse the issue. However, if I have a lot of windows open in one project, it does help.

mikemathew said...

Virtual appliances are pre-built, pre-configured and ready-to-run software applications packaged along with an operating system in a virtual machine. You'll need paid-for software such as a copy of VMware Workstation or Server to create a virtual appliance, however. Alternatively, more than 460 virtual appliances are available for download from the VMware site.
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